Conquest Student Housing, the same business that attracted protests last year when it evicted several low-income families in Isla Vista, has become the center of controversy once again, this time in Los Angeles, where the company received a lawsuit from the University of Southern California for its allegedly illegal business practices.
In a 62-page lawsuit filed on Sept. 4, USC and local developer Urban Partners alleged that Conquest attempted to monopolize the student housing market near the university. The two groups claim the company tried to block the construction of the Gateway Project – a USC-endorsed, mixed-use development that was designed to increase the amount of student housing. The lawsuit also alleges that Conquest engaged in racketeering, abusive litigation, extortion, fraud and intimidation.
In a press release, Urban Partners Principal Matthew Burton stated that Conquest allegedly used threats and intimidation tactics to increase development costs and decrease apartment and condominium availability. He said that in some instances Conquest will allegedly spend more than $1 million to stop projects and eliminate competition.
USC Media Relations Executive Director James Grant said Conquest’s alleged tactics have prevented the school from completing its housing project.
“Conquest has delayed the [Gateway Project] for at least two years, causing harm to USC and their students,” Grant said. “That’s 1,600 beds that are sorely needed. We have a long-term commitment to provide advanced opportunities to our students – all 33,000 of them. Conquest’s attempts to eliminate competition in the University Park area has impeded on those opportunities.”
The lawsuit names Conquest and its owners Brian Chen and Alan Smolinisky as defendants.
In addition to the property near USC, Conquest owns two housing units in I.V. – the Breakpointe Apartments and the recently constructed Coronado Apartments.
In August 2006, I.V.’s Cedarwood Apartments residents were evicted by Conquest in order to renovate the area to create Coronado. Several UCSB students and community members protested the evictions and alleged that Conquest had engaged in discrimination by evicting residents based on their socio-economic status, race and their position as non-students. Additionally, UCSB’s Associated Students led a boycott against the business.
The evicted residents later brought their cases before the Santa Barbara Superior Court, eventually agreeing to move out in exchange for their returned security deposits and the removal of the eviction notices from their records.
Conquest currently owns 19 buildings surrounding USC, providing housing to approximately 1,400 students.